The United States men’s national soccer team isn’t ready to throw its old-timers overboard.
Of all the takeaways from Friday’s 2-1 loss to Colombia, the most obvious one is that Team USA’s young and inexperienced players have a lot of growing to do before they can face up to the powers of the soccer world.
Colombia earned a deserved comeback win after outplaying the United States from start to finish. Second-half goals from forwards Carlos Bacca and Teo Gutierrez overturned the advantage Team USA gained through Jozy Altidore’s early penalty kick and sent home the majority of the fans on hand at Craven Cottage with smiling faces.
For the players and fans wearing red, white and blue, the loss served as a reminder of how important the United States’ key players remain to the national team program. Without the likes of midfield general Michael Bradley and captain Clint Dempsey, Team USA couldn’t sustain possession, establish a passing rhythm or capitalize on the few chances it created against Colombia — the third-ranked team in the latest FIFA rankings. The solid performances of center back Jermaine Jones and holding midfielder Kyle Beckerman kept the result in doubt, but Colombia was the better team by a good distance.
U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann picked a mixed squad for his team’s final games of 2014. Klinsmann’s group included a number of players whose careers are in their formative stages, some who are entering their prime years and a few veterans. Generally speaking, the experienced Americans out-shined their greener teammates in the face of a powerful opponent — but not by much.
The first 20 minutes of USA-Colombia were open, fast-paced and featured plenty of end-to-end action. However, Colombia took over from there, despite trailing, and always looked like it would score the next goal. For 40 minutes, Colombia attacked with purpose but little success. The United States defended bravely as a well-organized unit, but the Americans’ timely interventions gave way to individual errors as the game progressed.
Carlos Bacca converted one of his many scoring chances to tie the score in the 60th minute. The game soon lost cohesiveness, but Colombia remained the protagonist, while the United States largely defended and counter-attacked. Colombia compounded Team USA’s frustrations when Teo Gutierrez scored the game-winner with three minutes left in normal time.
It was the third time the United States conceded a late goal in its last three games. The American players who are gaining experience with late cameos are culpable in these late breakdowns. The national team regulars also must take responsibility for this worrying trend.
The United States has played four games since the 2014 FIFA World Cup against opponents of varying strength, and Klinsmann has given young players a chance to claim spots in the early stages of this new cycle. Team USA hasn’t yet delivered a dominant or complete performance, and its play in these exhibition games is as inconsistent as the results.
The U.S. national team will continue to face powerful teams before returning to competitive play next summer in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. If its players don’t rediscover their best form and confidence levels in the coming months, USA soccer fans will be left watching games in which their team is second best and plays in a style that is far from entertaining.
Photo by Lefteris Pitarakis/The Associated Press